5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Sustainability Transitions

Coordinators: René Kemp and Shyama Ramani

For more details on our research activities, publications and events please see http://site4society.merit.unu.edu and http://lab.merit.unu.edu

In this theme, researchers study the role of science, technology, innovation and engagement (SITE) to address societal challenges. The aim is to develop insights, indicators, tools, educational programmes and services relevant for businesses, governments, social sector actors, researchers and citizens. The research is often done within a multi-disciplinary approach with attention to the problem definitions, capabilities and interests of different stakeholders and relevant institutions. Sustainability education, societal outreach, case study analysis, indicator work and direct interactions with policy makers  are core activities.

Key questions for inquiry under theme 5 are:

  • How can innovation be measured in the best possible ways to aid policy intelligence for sustainable development, (green) smart specialisation and public sector innovation
  • What are viable pathways (involving SITE variables) to transition to a circular economy, a low-carbon energy system, better sanitation and waste management, and inclusive development?
  • What economic, social, political and technological factors contribute to or obstruct progress along these pathways?
  • How can inertia or obstruction be overcome? How can cooperation and coordination be achieved between concerned actors for transitions that offer SDG benefits?
  • How can the wellbeing of people and communities (especially the excluded and vulnerable) be measured and ensured during transitions? In the literature there is a tendency to assume those, neglecting the need to actively ensure those.

In most of the research, possibilities for positive change through innovation – for addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – are examined in actor-centred approaches that are mindful of power, incentives, institutions, social norms, beliefs and capabilities. Recognising that innovation need not be only technology based, or created only by firms, the theme also studies social innovation, public sector innovation, social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

Research under this theme attributes an important role to direct engagement with stakeholders, policy makers and people from statistical agencies and draws on diverse methods such as survey analysis, case-based analysis, quantitative-qualitative comparative analysis, discourse analysis, and actor-centred institutional analysis. Innovation systems and processes are analysed at multi-levels (e.g. actor, technology, sectoral, national or regional systems), cross-sectionally and/or longitudinally.


    Examples of ongoing research projects and topics:

    • The production of a manual on eco-innovation measurement for a green economy by European experts (a flagship project of green.eu for the European Commission)
    • Updating of the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) for the European Commission, which comprises the European Union’s main tools for the measurement, monitoring, and benchmarking of innovation performance in EU Member States, other European and neighbouring countries as well as in selected other countries considered as the EU’s main global competitors.
    • Coordinating the design and revision of the Community Innovation Survey for Eurostat.
    • New technologies and digitisation as opportunities and challenges for the social economy and social enterprises (new)
    • Responsible Research and Innovation Ecosystems at the Regional Scale (RRI2SCALE) to spearhead sustainable development and economic growth, while simultaneously advancing inclusiveness and quality of life (new)
    • A PhD project on how can citizens’ behaviour can be nudged to waste separation to aid a transition to a circular economy and better systems of solid waste management
    • A World University Network Project: “A Cross-National Study of Urban Solid Waste Management: Learnings and Way Forward” to build a collaborative research network on solid waste management.
    • The Site4Society initiative, which organises workshops, training programmemes and publication briefs around the SITE variables i.e. science, innovation, infrastructure, technology and engagement (via entrepreneurship and/or governance) for sustainability transitions. Its workshops range from interviews with practitioners in UNU classrooms to gamified knowledge exchanges, community interventions and multi-stakeholder forums organised both within and outside of the Netherlands.

1. Economics of Innovation and New Technologies
2. Structural Change and Economic Development
3. Economic Complexity and Innovation
4. Governance and institutions
5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Sustainability Transitions
6. Migration and Development
7. Social Protection
8. Population, Development and Labour Economics